Myriads of coaches, counselors, advisors, and spiritual directors exist to guide you. Some are beneficial, others not. To whom should you listen?
This post names the one necessary characteristic of wise counselors and provides five qualities to equip you in recognizing them.
The previous post exposed four types of people to avoid when seeking counsel. I’m presuming you’ve read the other eight posts that guide you step-by-step to reach this point. Each post is in order. For instance, you do not seek advice from others until you have addressed the issues of the earlier posts. If you haven’t read them yet, here’s the link to the first step: Decision-Making and the Will of God.
Do you want to know the one necessary characteristic for a wise counselor?
What do I mean by maturity in this context? After all, maturity can be viewed from many perspectives. Medical doctors are concerned about physical maturity; psychologists about emotional maturity; ethicists about moral maturity; and so forth.
In our context, I’m using maturity in a biblical and Theo-centric sense. This means that we will be identifying the concept of maturity from God’s perspective, as the Bible describes it. We’ll expand on that in a moment.
A scene in the early days of the reign of King Rehoboam will serve as an introductory illustration. I encourage you to read 1 Kings 12:1-25.
Rehoboam had just begun to rule over Israel upon the death of his father, Solomon. His subjects were seeking relief from the heavy burdens of taxation and service imposed under Solomon’s reign. Rehoboam promised his answer in three days.
Rehoboam then sought counsel from two groups.
The first group was composed of “the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime” (12:6-7). Their recommendation was: “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” Commenting on this advice, Bruce Waltke writes that this is “… a wonderfully spiritual answer. To be a good leader, the counselors tell him, you must be a servant—a very biblical perspective, and one that Christ Himself would have offered.”
Rejecting this counsel, Rehoboam turned to the second group made up of “the young men who had grown up with [Rehoboam] and were serving him” (12:8-11). They advised that he increase the burden on the people dramatically.
Rehoboam followed the advice of the younger men which resulted in a major revolt and the division of the kingdom into two.
What does wise or godly maturity look like? How can you identify it in others?
I propose five qualities of godly maturity.
Among other things, I was guided in my studies by the language of maturity in the Bible. For example, the Greek word teleios is often translated as maturity. It also includes the concepts of meeting the highest standard, full-grown, fully developed, and complete. Here are some of my findings.
The phrase “in Christ,” together with variations such as “in Christ Jesus,” “in the Beloved,” and “in Him,” has rich significance.
In basic terms, all humanity is either “in Christ” or not. To be “in Christ” is to be “alive to God in Christ Jesus” and so much more (Romans 6:11; 8:1; Ephesians 1:3-14).
A person becomes “in Christ” upon hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:13). But a person’s maturity in Christ is not just about that person’s salvation, it is about how much that person has become like Christ by the transforming work of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
As followers of Jesus, our primary purpose is not about our health, wealth, education, and the like—it is about becoming more like Jesus. This is God’s will—His desire—for each of us.
The apostle Paul put it this way (Philippians 3:13-15):
Brothers [and sisters], I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature [teleios] should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
The wise counselor not only declares and lives toward this goal but also desires that same goal for others—for you. Like Epaphras, that person “is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature [teleios] and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12).
In the previous post, we noticed that biblical knowledge is a mark of maturity. The writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5:13-6:2) states:
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature [teleios], who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity [teleiotēs], not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
The immature Christian has not grown beyond a basic understanding of the foundational beliefs of salvation—this is like milk for infants. A brother or sister mature in their knowledge of the Bible—God’s Story—will have gone beyond simply knowing “the elementary teachings about Christ” to living the Christ-life.
Be aware that it is not simply knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It is knowledge translated into godly living. I once heard the remark that there are readers that mark their Bibles, and Bibles that mark their readers. Mature people are those who are marked, informed, and shaped by the Word of God.
A mature Christian relates to people in a way that reminds us of Jesus.
You have probably heard that:
Returning good for good, and evil for evil, is human.
Returning evil for good is demonic.
Returning good for evil is divine—God’s way.
Here’s how Jesus puts it in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48):
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect [teleios], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect [teleios].
Treating others in love—even one’s enemies—is a mark of maturity [teleios]. It is a manifestation of the heart of our heavenly Father.
As we learned earlier, Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders. In this, and similar contexts, an elder is not so much about a person’s age—there are lots of old people who are not wise. Instead, it is about people who have lived for many years and have learned to navigate life successfully—in a way that pleases God.
As for the trials, here’s what James writes (James 1:2-4):
Consider it pure joy, my brothers [and sisters], whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature [teleios] and complete, not lacking anything.
Those trials may include experiences of testing in their relationships with their spouse and children; the vulnerabilities of their temperament, personality, and emotions; the temptations of addictive substances, money, and sex; their dealings with difficult people in the home, the community, business, and church life; and more.
As we wrote before, you’re not looking to hurting people for wise counsel who are still in the process of healing; you’re looking for mature people that have experienced trials, have processed and grown through them, and bear the scars.
Although the context is leadership within the church community, Paul provides the qualities of those who make for wise counselors in these terms (1 Timothy 3:2-5; also, 1 Timothy 3:11 [deaconesses] and Titus 1:6-9):
An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Wise counselors have experienced the joys and pains of real-life and have grown through those times to become more like Jesus.
These five qualities of wise counselors overlap each other and, most likely, are incomplete.
Overall, consider these qualities carefully.
Don’t be fooled by appearances, intellect, wealth, or position. In your process of discernment, take your time, consider all the qualities, and pray earnestly before approaching someone as a counselor.
No doubt there are other qualities that could be included. Let me know what you can add. You can contact me by clicking here.
Photo credit: Offered as a free wallpaper image at https://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/finding-the-answers-you-need/
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